Mazda to Crash the Electric Car Party?

Mazda is supposedly jumping into the green car game, with plans to build a range-extended electric vehicle that will debut in 2010, according to a report from Autocar via Wired. So if two’s company and three’s a crowd, GM, with its Chevy Volt, and Toyota, with its next-gen Prius, are probably feeling like their party’s about to be crashed.

We say the more the merrier, as we all benefit from this kind of competition. But some of the details of this report are puzzling, notably that: “Autocar quotes unnamed ‘senior sources’ saying Mazda is testing an electric car that uses a Wankel rotary engine to charge the battery.” Wankels, although small and powerful, are pretty darned inefficient. They aren’t the cleanest-running engines, either, so using them in a hybrid — range-extended or other-wise — doesn’t make all that much sense.

Mazda’s move to start building green cars, however, makes a lot of sense. Sooner or later, this is a party that everyone is going to have to join. And Mazda is majority owned by Ford, meaning that whatever goodies and tech tricks it can cook up, Ford can then use in the rest of their cars.

GM, meanwhile, has decided to go into overdrive with plans for the Chevy Volt. In the International Herald Tribune, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz says that GM will have production versions of the Volt working in a large test fleet by late 2009. As one of the most highly anticipated cars in GM’s history, GM can’t afford to have the Volt’s debut dimmed by competitors. While the article’s headline claims that “No hybrid race between Toyota, GM,” there is undoubtedly a race that is being fiercely run, even now. That also means that the Volt could be much further along than GM has let on, and could be able to start assessing its viability much, much earlier.

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